I don’t like being stared at!

I took the kids to the botanical gardens in the city center the other day. I wanted to see what the center of Bangalore looked like and I figured that the gardens would be a nice, relaxing introduction to the city. It was our first autorickshaw ride as well (prior to that, we had used a taxi or the relocation consultants’ 4×4), but rickshaws are a subject for another time. We arrived at the gardens, bought out tickets, proceeded inside and became tourist attractions in our own right.

I’m not quite sure what the trigger was, or if it was a combination of triggers. Firstly, white faces are rare in the city as far as I can tell; despite Bangalore’s international fame as an IT hub. Most of my German colleagues who have visited on business trips have naturally come without children and the few westerners that I have seen look to be the young professional types. Outside of the house hunting trips to a couple of gated communities, ours are the only western children I’ve seen. So fair skinned, blue eyed (Charlotte) and blonde (Sammy) children are few and far between here. Lastly, I can only presume that it is also unusual to a father to venture out alone with his children. That would be unremarkable in America or Europe, but I suspect it is different here.

We did not make it more than 100 meters into the gardens before the first family asked to take our pictures. The ones who did not ask to take our pictures were perhaps not as bold, but were equally curious, because it seemed that almost everyone was staring at us. This alarmed Charlotte to no end. We only made it as far as the entrance to the Japanese garden before she was so sick of the gardens that she wanted to go home right then and there. I tried to coax her along a bit more, but to no avail. I thought better of forcing her. I don’t want her to have a traumatic experience that causes her to reject India outright. So we went back to the gate to hitch a rickshaw ride back to Whitefield.

The Rickshaw driver wanted way too much for the trip, but I did not feel like having too much stress searching for a more reasonable driver, so we paid the overpriced fare. The driver did not know the way and had to stop and ask for directions a couple of times. He also got lost and it took us forever to get back. By the time he dropped us back off at the tech park, I had had my fill of India. We went inside to the mall to get our passport photos for the foreigner registration office (FRO) and we stopped at a café while inside. The kids had milk shakes, I had a cappuccino and we reconciled ourselves to the world. We regained some of the spring in our step for the two kilometer walk home. The spiritual healing powers of milkshakes and cappuccino are underrated.

During the rickshaw ride back, she asked me if I thought it was stupid that we came back early. I told her not to worry about it and that we’ll just have to slowly get used to being stared at. People here don’t mean to be rude and anyway, I don’t even know if staring is considered rude in India. They are all very curious. She has a friend back in Germany who was adopted from Columbia as a baby. Deana is a brown face in a sea of white faces. I think it will be good for Charlotte to understand the perspective of am exotic minority, but a little at a time.

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6 responses to “I don’t like being stared at!

  1. Oh my God Dave! I am going through the same thing in Italy. I am a light-skinned black(mixed American Indian, black, irish) woman from New York and I met and married a citizen of Italy. Needless to say, nine months ago, we relocated to Tuscany. My son looks Italian, so he does not attract attention. My story is different. People stare everywhere I go and at times, when there is a couple,one person will nudge the other and give them the indication to look in my direction. I feel like I am on display in a museum.
    The bad thing about it is that it is starting to make me bitter. We go out with good intentions and before you know it, I am uncomfortable with an urgency to leave the situation. It is horrible. Don’t people watch Television? Haven’t they seen white people or in my case, tanned ambiguous others before. Even so, if they haven’t where is the empathy in these cultures. I realize that some people take staring as a compliment. However, at a certain point it becomes intrusive! Good luck

  2. I don’t think it is intentional rudeness – most of the time. We are exotic and foreign. I’m sure there is a lot of wondering what brought us to the place we are in and what our story is. Whenever I run across foreigners (foreign to the place I’m in), my own curiosity is also raised. Staring is a big no-no however. Skin color is something that can mark you as obviously foreign. Your language or accent is another, but if your looks fit the local norm, you can keep your mouth shut to escape extra attention.

    Interestingly, most black skinned people in the Heidelberg area of Germany are Americans; either soldiers or family members of soldiers. They have a double shot of being dark skinned and usually obviously American. This is to my own advantage as I enjoy being in the presence of my countrymen, even if I’m to shy to shout “hello my fellow Americans” and tackle hug them. 😛

    Good luck in Tuscany by the way. That is a very beautiful corner of Italy.

  3. Chanced upon your blog, and felt like leaving a note. I am from Bangalore, although now in the US, and hence can understand both perspectives to an extent.

    Probably the root cause is that the western concept of personal space doesn’t really hold in India. Maybe because there are so many of us sharing common spaces. So, it’s not strange to look at/talk to anyone you meet in public places.

    Also, unlike in the US, most people in India aren’t used to see ‘foreigners’, so they are exciting to talk to, interact with, or talk about. Very likely, the people who wanted pictures with you were just excited to mingle with you, and were not being rude 🙂

    Cultural differences are strange that way. For ex, when I came to the US, and when people I have never seen before nod and say ‘Hi’, it made me wonder if I knew them from somewhere before. That kind of acknowledgment of strangers is alien to India.

    Just my 2 cents, or should I say paisas ?:)

  4. It is good to know that no rudeness is intended and that we are simply interesting. I have noticed that foreigners are few and far between here. I tend to see them in the supermarket near the expat ghetto Palm Meadows, on Brigade Road and at my employer’s offices. Other than that, they are very rare.

  5. Hey,

    You’re being kind, but trust me, I am an Indian and I get stared at too, especially when I’m walking with my wife, who is an Indian too. And I find it almost as irritating as you do. I just stare back and more often than not, it works.

    I agree with Harish that the concept of a personal space doesn’t exist in India but its high time that Indians stop doing this !

    I don’t know but I’ve noticed this happens more in the South than in the North, though.

  6. Pingback: First Trek - Part I « A Year In India

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